Facing Death by Sandra L Bertman  Posted 30 Apr 2019
America in 1991: A ‘Death-Denying Society’
Sandra Bertman sets the scene for her book with a portrait of America in 1991, describing it as a ‘death-denying’ society. I think the situation in Australia now is better in many respects, but in others it seems that we have just become more sophisticated and cunning in distracting ourselves from death until the last moment when it is too late to take advantage of what the Buddhist teachings say are the great opportunities in dying.
Newspapers and television bombard our senses daily with reports of violence, accidents, cancer and the threat of megadeath. For some, death may occur suddenly from a heart attack, an accident or a stroke. Most of us, however, will experience death slowly and in our later years. We are an increasingly ageing population. Many of us will develop chronic illnesses that will eventually prove fatal. Death will be protracted and will involve a growing awareness that we are, indeed, dying.
Yet our society seems insulated from and uncomfortable about the subject of death. The modern age has created a veritable ‘pornography of death’ which extends even to disposition of the body. Aspects of the funeral industry have become exploitative, ostentatious, and sanitised. In hospital and nursing home settings – places where death and dying are daily events – mutual conspiracies of silence and closed communication patterns entered into by dying patients and staff are commonplace. Even children learn to collude in this game by concealing knowledge of their own impending deaths from their parents and medical personnel. Family ties have disintegrated, while the aged and dying have become segregated from their loved ones through consignment to nursing homes and institutional care. America might thus be characterized as a death-denying society.
There is no doubt that increases in medical technology have increased longevity – what gerontologists call ‘prolongevity’. But along with major improvements in the technological aspects of care e.g. marvellous devices for emergency services, ventilators, artificial kidneys, organ transplants, Comes a myriad of ethical and humanistic dilemmas relating not only to where and when we die, but also about the way we die. One of the paradoxes that has resulted from the evolution of medical science in recent decades is that the complexities involved in the treatment of illness and disease often act as a barrier between the caregiver and the sick person. Highly technical diagnostic and therapeutic interventions can become obstacles to effective communication and treatment and accentuate the shift even further away from close personal involvement with the patient.
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 Contents of this page prepared by Len Warren based on extracts from Facing Death: Images, Insights, and Interventions A Handbook for Educators, Healthcare Professionals and Counsellors, Sandra L Bertman, Taylor & Francis, 1991